Rules have been finalized to create six new GS localities and to expand the boundaries of two existing ones, changes that will take effect in time for the payment of a raise in January, assuming that there is one.
The new localities will be in the Birmingham, Ala., Burlington, Vt., San Antonio, Virginia Beach, Va., Corpus Christi and Omaha areas. The latter two were added as OPM finalized the rules, which originally proposed creating only the first four. In addition, the rules add McKinley County, N.M., to the Albuquerque locality and San Luis Obispo County, Calif., to the Los Angeles area.
The rules follow years of recommendations by the Federal Salary Council to add to the current 44 metropolitan areas with their own rates—Alaska and Hawaii each have separate rates in their entirety as well, and all other areas fall under a catchall locality called the “rest of the U.S.” The salary council recommends creating new localities when a local pay gap exceeds the “RUS” pay gap by more than a threshold amount, and recommends expanding existing localities based on factors including percentages of federal employees in outlying areas who commute into the locality area. The rules, published by OPM, reflect the approval of those changes by the President’s Pay Agent, consisting of the heads of Labor, OPM and OMB.
When a new locality is created, or an area added to an existing one, employees working in those areas are moved out of the RUS locality, the lowest-paid, and receive an immediate salary boost as well as slightly larger annual locality raises moving forward. Establishing the six new areas will benefit about 70,000 GS employees—about 30,000 of them in the Norfolk area—while expanding the Albuquerque area will benefit about 1,600 and expanding the Los Angeles area will benefit about 100, the Federal Register notice finalizing the rules says.
An unspecified number of wage grade employees also stand to benefit, since the practice for years has been that they get the same annual increase as GS employees locally even though a separate locality-based pay system applies to wage grade employees.
The rules will be effective as of January 5, just ahead of the start of the first full pay period of the year, in most cases January 7, when a 2019 raise would take effect. Under the Senate version of a spending bill now in a conference with the House, a 1.9 percent raise would be paid and divided into across the board and locality components that would yield raises ranging from about 1.6 to about 2.3 percent. However, there still is no assurance that a raise will be paid.
The most recent expansion of the GS locality system occurred in January 2016, when 13 localities were created and the boundaries of 21 existing ones were expanded, benefitting some 110,000 GS employees.